Today's Lessons Shape Tomorrow's Student Housing Success

November 2, 2020

In my last article, I discussed my predictions for future changes to student housing amenity spaces, including the COVID-19 effect. I’m also studying potential overarching student housing design changes, from site and building plans all the way to specific unit plans.

First and foremost, safety is and will remain of utmost importance. Many future changes will allow for a safer environment for all students, protecting them from COVID-19 and other health and environmental risks while still enabling inclusivity.  



In contrast to “Student Cities” – 1,000+ bed student housing complexes – we are seeing students opt for smaller community/boutique developments. With all the chaos that surrounds our lives right now, smaller developments provide a quieter atmosphere for students to connect in a less populated setting and feel safe while doing it. Of course, not every developer is looking for smaller developments, and many cannot make the numbers work without having 300-400 beds in a given market. But that’s the beauty of smaller boutique developments… A developer can target infill sites in close proximity to one another to gain the density needed to pencil while still maintaining the smaller community lifestyle students are looking for. 

Beyond safety and security, tight-knit communities also offer an element of independence that lends itself to a more mature lifestyle. Smaller communities are creating better safety and security in the ever-changing world of social distancing and more opportunities for students to nurture deeper relationships within their micro-community. 

In a similar way, student housing unit plans have also seen some revisions in response to safety and security. Pre-COVID, it was very common to see higher occupancy units (4-bed, 5-bed, 6-bed, double occupancy, etc.) in various markets to ensure the numbers would pencil for the developer. Fast-forward to today….the concerns around safety and security have led to students opting for lower occupancy units (studios, 1-bed, 2-bed, and some 3-bed) to reduce risk and increase peace of mind for both student and parents. There is no price tag on the safety of your child, so many parents – a.k.a. “check-signers” – are willing to pay a premium for a 1-bedroom apartment if it means a safer living environment. We have designed a prototype that offers flexibility based on the land parcel. Check it out on BD+C and their magazine feature.



In a related but different effort to maintain safety and security, most student housing complexes are moving away from private balconies due to liabilities. As an alternative, we have shifted our designs to include larger public outdoor terraces easily accessed from different locations around the building. This strategy is focused on the limits of the smaller balconies and how a more purposeful solution can be designed to withstand the structural loading …not to mention capture better views. These can be larger or smaller depending on your site opportunities and geographical location. Also, incorporating more outdoor amenities as compared to indoors is a focus that helps us create spectacular, tour-worthy exterior spaces that still can function safely and responsibly, even during a pandemic. 



Bed + bath parity was a must-have a decade or more ago in student housing, but since construction costs have risen significantly of late, many developers questioned the need for each bedroom to have its own private bathroom. In many cases, bed + bath parity was sacrificed in order to preserve the budget and maximize the number of beds. Unfortunately, while that strategy helped deliver projects during a very challenging time, those designs are hurting now. Developers who decided to stick with the 1:1 bed + bath parity rule are far better prepared to entice today’s student renters. This preference will not go away when COVID ends; bed + bath parity is a must-have feature that will always be worth the extra cost.

Student housing is not going anywhere. Students still want to live near campus even when learning virtually, and the industry has been very busy planning for the future. Our goal is to keep students as safe as possible while maintaining a strong sense of community. Just like when we were actually in college…we must learn while we are in this season and why we are in this season if we are to continue elevating the designed environment for years to come.